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Kajal Nisha Patel : Satyaprakash (light of truth) ... the silent radicals.
Kajal Nisha Patel - my background :
My father migrated from India, via Africa to England in 1969 where I was born and raised. My parents had taken me to India from a very early age, my longest absence being eight years. I returned in 2005 to see that India had developed significantly; however, I was disheartened to see many people still living in abject poverty. I felt an overwhelming sense of urgency and responsibility to be part of the change I wanted to see.
I returned to England after a period of two months and began my search for opportunities to return to India. I was very lucky, as the first search result presented a company named Indicorps. Their motto read "Service for the Soul" , with a mission "To encourage Indians around the world to actively participate in progress of the country that defines their identity".
I feel that everything which has happened to me since I contacted their founder is kismet (fate). I had approached him over the internet, informing him of my passion for photography and vision for social development in India.
My photography internship with Indicorps started in January 2007, though my primary task was to immerse myself into a chosen community where I would contribute to grassroots development and implement social change.
Exhibition: Satyaprakash (Light of Truth) ... the silent radicals.
When I arrived in Ahmedabad, I was interested in working on several different projects. However, the two areas I felt most passionate about was the refuse cycle and working with underprivileged women - especially widows. Kismet played her hand again, as the areas were intertwined.
Rag pickers are predominantly women, whom collect recyclable materials, discarded by the general public. Forming a titanic part of the recycling chain - they are the refuse collection service. With their young daughters and sons, they leave their homes as early as 4am to begin the hunt for what will be exchanged for their daily meal that evening - a meagre 50 rupees. They each lay claim on areas which are polluted with daily unwanted waste. However, the women are all too happy to see it lying there, as each rag contributes to a significant kilo. The women slip away into alleys, streets, high rise office blocks and residential buildings before sunrise. It is very difficult to find them after this time, so I would have to reach the collection areas by 5am.
Rag pickers fit into the lowest rung of Indian society, as they are considered to be worth nothing more than capable of collecting that which is spoiled, unwanted and thrown out by mainstream society. They are the "untouchables". Traditionally, caste Hindus believed even an untouchable's shadow was defiling. Rag pickers play an important role in keeping Ahmedabad, Gujarat's largest city clean. Furthermore, litter is big business in India - the women's income is cruelly insufficient and insignificant when examining the overall revenue which is generated by their efforts. These are progressive, self employed women whom constitute a prominent percentage of the national workforce thus contributing to India's economy. However, they remain unrecognised as official workers, despite figures in their thousands, in Ahmedabad alone. The vast majority of women are sole income generators in their household, supporting anywhere up to eight individuals. I did not see a single male rag picker.These portraits are being presented to pay homage to the hard work and dedication of the rag picking workforce. The women's commitment to their gruelling workload, even in times of sickness is a testament to a vision they hold for their children's futures. Carrying out their duties with spirited determination and a smile...they are confident, graceful and dignified ...silent...yet radical. People ask me "Aren't you embarrassed to be seen with these women?" The simple answer is No... On the contrary, I feel privileged to have been allowed into their worlds. These photographs were taken to understand the survival of a community which I have grown to care for. I would like my baheno (sisters) to acknowledge that their drive and ability to work in such conditions is a topic worthy for motivational speeches, anywhere in the world... They inspired me.